Detroit – Talk about an uncertain season ahead.
As the Red Wings begin training camp Friday in Traverse City, they are set to go on what could be a strange, different but potentially exciting ride.
Successful? Most believe not.
But it’ll be different, largely with the team moving into the new Little Caesars Arena, where a new era begins as the organization leaves behind Joe Louis Arena.
The Red Wings go from one of the oldest and least comfortable arenas in North America, to one that’s state-of-the-art and has everything imaginable under its roof.
But how about the team itself?
The Red Wings saw a streak of 25 consecutive trips to the playoffs end last season.
With only one significant addition during the summer – defenseman Trevor Daley – and largely the identical roster returning, most analysts nationally believe this Red Wings team will finish last in the Atlantic Division, and near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
General manager Ken Holland insists the goal remains to make the playoffs, and believes this roster can do so with internal improvement.
But as the Red Wings prepare to begin on ice activities – they take physicals and play in an annual benefit golf tournament Thursday – rarely have expectations surrounding the team been so low.
There are dozens of issues and questions surrounding this team. But here are 10 to keep an eye on as the exhibition season unfolds.
1. Pressure on GM Ken Holland and coach Jeff Blashill.
The pressure is always on the general manager and head coach, in every sport, every season.
But a season after missing the playoffs for the first time after 25 consecutive trips, coupled with minimal tweaks to the roster, many analysts believe the Red Wings will be worse than last season, when they had 79 points.
Moving into the sparkling new Little Caesars Arena will keep fans interested for a while. But it’s fair to wonder about the future of the management and coaching staffs if there’s significant regression in the standings.
2. Mood around training camp.
The Red Wings have always entered the season with lofty expectations: Make the playoffs, then set their sights on a long run toward the Stanley Cup.
No one expects this team to come close to any of that. Las Vegas oddsmakers have the Red Wings as 100-1 longshots of winning the Cup.
Is this roster motivated to prove people wrong? How much did missing the playoffs last season dent this team’s confidence. Or did it make the Wings hungrier?
3. How will the Red Wings get under the salary cap?
They are approximately $3 million over the $75 million salary cap. They’ll get about $3.9 million of relief when Johan Franzen (concussion) goes on long-term injured reserve, but they still need to sign restricted free agent Andreas Athanasiou.
If they sign Athanasiou, they’re still likely to be a bit over. So they’ll have to do some maneuvering to get cap-compliant.
There is speculation defenseman Ryan Sproul (knee) might not be ready to start the season. Or maybe a player will be traded or waived, helping Detroit get under the cap.
Regardless, there’s some work to be done. The numbers simply don’t add up.
4. What will happen to Andreas Athanasiou?
Athanasiou has shown the ability to score goals early in his career, and has the type of speed that is so valued in today’s NHL.
It would be shocking to see him leave for Russia, as has been the negotiating ploy in recent weeks.
It’s likely he’ll be signed soon. But when he does, there will suddenly be pressure to continue to put up – and improve upon – his offensive production.
5. Who is the real Riley Sheahan?
Is he the double-digit goal-scorer earlier in his career, who projected to be a key No. 2 or No. 3 center? A big, strong, young center with some offensive talent, and ability to neutralize opposing, dangerous centers?
Or last season’s version, who didn’t score a goal until the final game?
Many scouts believe Sheahan’s season was atypical. He’s still well thought of around the NHL, so it was somewhat surprising expansion Vegas selected Tomas Nosek off the Red Wings roster instead of Sheahan.
A bounce-back season for Sheahan is vital for the Red Wings.
6. Will the Wings have a home-ice advantage at Little Caesars Arena?
The new home of the Red Wings is extraordinary. But how much of an advantage will it be for the Red Wings on the ice? At Joe Louis Arena, players said it felt as though fans were right on top of the action.
Little Caesars Arena is designed in a similar fashion. But it will surely take the Red Wings time to get comfortable in their new surroundings – and likewise, their fans.
7. Will Tyler Bertuzzi make the team?
The Red Wings would like to inject some youth into the roster, and Bertuzzi, 22, appears ready to make the jump to the NHL.
He can play with some edge, has shown the capability of producing offense, and played his best in the AHL playoffs. But the roster is tight, and there are the salary cap issues.
If Bertuzzi doesn’t have a full-time role, the Red Wings aren’t going to promote him just to be a healthy scratch.
8. Can Petr Mrazek rebound?
Similar to many Red Wings, Mrazek had a season way off what’s been his career average.
Mrazek never got into any sort of rhythm, rarely looked comfortable in net, and lost the starting job to Jimmy Howard.
When expansion Vegas looked past Mrazek in the expansion draft, it was another surprising move. How that will affect Mrazek will be interesting to watch.
9. How will Dylan Larkin perform?
After a quiet start, Larkin played much better the final quarter of last season, then had an impressive performance at the world championship for Team USA.
Larkin is one of the Red Wings’ most competitive players. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him rebound very well, after a mostly rough sophomore season.
10. Will Trevor Daley have a big impact?
The Red Wings needed help on defense and Daley should provide that.
He has Stanley Cup experience, is great in the locker room, and has the ability to stabilize the defense with his skating, passing, and decision-making.
If Daley can stay healthy, he should prove to be an important addition.
RED WINGS TRAINING CAMP
Where: Centre Ice Arena, Traverse City
Tickets: $10-$20, available at arena.
Schedule: Daily on-ice practices and scrimmages begin Friday with the first of three groups on ice at 9:30 a.m., followed by 11:30 a.m., and last at 1:30 p.m. Camp ends with the Red-White intra-squad scrimmage Monday at noon.